“The Best Taxi Driver”: Rewards in real life

A few days ago I was crossing an intersection close to a school. A few volunteer ladies were guiding the traffic and a tsunami of children. What impressed me was the firmness with which these volunteers were guiding the traffic. Some of the drivers, including some parents, were a little intimidated. Over all though there was a great satisfaction in the air.

Other than hazard warning type jackets these volunteers were carrying stop signs. Beyond that there was nothing else that expressed the status of these volunteers. No official hat. No coordinated colour dress. No badge. Nothing. In short there was no way for me to recognize how great there volunteers are beyond this crossing. We can all agree they deserve more.

Recognizing volunteers or any other act of kindness is important for encouraging these. It is very contagious in nature. People love to be recognized. People love to be an authority figure. Games have proved it that we love recognition or authority even in virtual worlds. Ask any Yelper who is the Duke of any cafe.

Recently I got to spend a lot of time in Starbucks. Starbucks send me a Gold Card a few days ago. Despite being aware of the psychology of these rewards, I am attracted to them. You can see through me pride with which I present my gold card when commoners pay cash.

Recently I came across a great example of using recognition or badges to encourage safe driving. In South Korea if you are an accident free cab driver you are given a title “The Best Taxi Driver” or in Korean 모범 택시기사. These special driver are allowed to wear a special band across their chest. They have a special type of hats. Their dress, their badges, and their hats make them obviously identifiable. These drivers wear these very proudly. It is an honour to be a Best Taxi Driver.

Most of these drivers volunteer to conduct traffic. You can sometimes see them around schools. Helping kids navigate their way home and effectively imparting a lesson in ethics and pride in excellence.

Here are three pictures of  two volunteers: The Best Taxi Driver, a Parent, and a Police Office conducting traffic. I know most of you can not read Korean, but I am sure you will have hard time recognizing who is who.

The Best Taxi Driver

The Parent Volunteer

The Police Officer

Can we play together?


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It requires more than a great idea to convince people to work with you. We learned that in school but still seem to forget how it unfolds.

Recently at a startup event people starting flocking around potential partners of complementary skills.
“I’m looking for a developer, are you a developer?” said one gentleman to another. “Yes” was the response. And then began a parade of idea and market and “let us grab a coffee”.
I saw one such team forming and almost immediately closing discussions with others. “They found the ONE” said one of the event organizers.

A week later I bumped into one of those chosen ones and realized that nothing got accomplished on their idea. It appears they may have the right skills but they lacked right motivations.

Co-Founding Improv

I think, maybe, we need to learn how to convince people to work with us along with coming up with ideas. We need to understand what is the right give-and -take that would make “working on the idea” attractive to all.

Human motivation is less understood and ambiguous part of collaboration. The ones who master it reap the rewards.

I would argue that that I need to take care of at least these four things to get someone motivated to work with me.

  1. Idea: An idea that is exciting to “them”
  2. Skills Inventory: Skills I have and skills I need.
  3. Expectations: Time, Competence, and Availability commitments
  4. The Offer: Answer to “what’s in it for you?”. Financial and ownership.

Sam’s Pick : Engaging café customers through Play Inspired Design


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A lot of cafes in my neighborhood display the work of local artists. Some of these artworks list the artist’s name and a price tag in case if you want to buy that piece.

I have often found myself walking around the café appreciating most of the art displayed. So far I have never purchased any of these artworks. That brings me to my point of today: can something be done to enrich this eco-system of visitors, shop owners, and artists.

I think yes.

One idea I have been tinkering with is what I call “Sam’s Pick”. Sam’s Pick is a label our local grocery store uses to highlight some of their products. I am assuming Sam is the owner of the place.

In the same spirit we can put two pieces on display as say Sam’s Pick and Stacey’s Pick. Then around these pieces leave some stars (the one kids use) , or even better give a star to each customer and invite them to place these stars underneath their favorite piece of art.

Now that way, customers are bound to look at these pieces. Get involve in some kind of competition between Sam and Stacey: chose a side and then place a star – hence pledge an allegiance. We could ask the customers whether they would like to know the result – get their email/phone.

If at the end of month we can count the stars and let all the folks who voted know the winner. We can offer a free drink/tea/coffee to all customer’s with winning stars. Hence create an event out of otherwise uneventful display of art. In a process we can even sell that piece, definitely promote the artist. Be overall a good social place.

Now that’s what I call a play-inspired design.

Mind of a traveller


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So why did you moved to Bay Area from New York?, said a well-wisher a few days ago. You should have seen me blessing this question with an elaborate response. I enlisted all decision-making tools that I used to come to that conclusion: from fuzzy logic to decision trees to collaborative thinking to expert panels. In reality though one fine evening we just decided to create a life with some adventure before we settle down.
Thats it.

It just feels too flimsy, too fickle, too light and too un-trustworthy to say that we just followed our hearts. There got to be a million reasons for us to move, right? But no. Some of us either by chance or choice happen to be in a position to be agile. We are one of these folks.

When I first moved to New York back in 90s I wished I had come here earlier. When I moved to Toronto I wished I was born there. When I moved to Bay Area I felt its like my grandpas village where I spent my childhood. It feels every mountain, every plant, every tree is familiar with me.

One day we identified this weird nature of ours: we are perpatual travellers.

Even the places where we were born we felt a desire to move and find our homeland.

I would not be surprised when I will visit South America, or Brazil or Africa and feel like their soil makes up my soul.

On the restless road to nowhere
Theres no certain peace it seems
Desire to keep on moving
till the river of dreams
Is it just because someone told you
Is it just because you found
Old freedom feels uneasy when duty is around

When allegiance asks the questions
Old freedom twists and turns
And chokes on codes of honour
On the sword of no return

And its the curse of the traveller
The curse of the traveller
Got a hold of me
And it wont let you be

Chris Rea

Game design is like building a rock not a statue


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If you are active in game-design community then the names of John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite must be familiar to you. I had an opportunity to attend IGDA event where John and Brenda were talking about their craft – the game design.

I consider myself a casual gamer and an accidental game product manager. I have not been exposed to John and Brenda’s earlier work. Hence my appreciation of their accomplishment is through the respect other game designers show towards them. For me listening to them was like listening to two artists describe their work and their process. What I took away from their conversation is obviously limited by my relative newness to game design process. Anyhow here are some of the ideas, or inspirations I picked from the session.

Crush the game UI at the end of process and optimize
Once the games’ design is complete crush it’s UI. Optimize it. Rethink it. Remove what can be removed, arrive at the cleanest version of the UI.
I like this approach of rethinking, tweaking, and removing waste at the end of the design process. When we are in the design process, despite our good intentions there is a bit of patch work. To test the whole gameplay we sometimes have to allow sub-optimal design choices in it. When the process is complete and we think we have a solid game, then we can optimize the games UI.

You are building a rock not a statue
Think of a sculptor carving Venus from a rock. Game players want to feel as if they are the sculptors and through gameplay they carve their Venus. But what should you think if you are a game designer. Hence John’s comment that as a game designer we are building a rock not a statue. Of course you, as a game designer, should have imagined and hopefully experienced the same feeling as a player will when they are playing your game. But when you present the game to the player, it is an uncarved rock with a Venus buried in it. Beautiful.
In conventional product management we present the statue, i.e. our Venus to the customers. In games though customers are on a journey of exploration and fun, it is not a productivity challenge. Hence the design intent is to maximize fun. Interesting.

Fun is not the only thing “Engagement” is the word
People play games for different reasons. Calling it fun seeking is over simplification. A better word to describe why people play games is the engagement”. People want to be engaged. Some do it to escape. Some do it for fun. Some do is to show mastery. Some do it for a sense of accomplishment. For every man there is a reason why he plays any game. But the essential common experience they are all seeking is the engagement.

Asimov, Dan Simmons : Read for inspiration
Dan Simmons’s writing created the world, extraordinary worlds that inspired John. Asimov was another good read. Brenda recommended reading Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Interesting. Dan Simmons imagines the worlds not imagined before while Zen connects you with the universe and universe within you.

Make games. Good bad or the ugly.
Practicing the process of making games is key. Not the quality of the game. Build a game.
It maps to everything we do in our lives. If you want to write a book then write it. You want to produce a tv show then produce it. You want to build a company then build it. The act of creating something once exposes mind and body to the process. You build physical, mental and metaphorical muscles. Great. It reminded me of Robert Rodriguez of Desperado fame. He and his home video recorder and his siblings as actors were enough for him to create a number of home movies. No wonder his first movies the we get to see were so polished. He had the wisdom of making hundreds of home videos.
Note to myself: Make things. Make games. Make products. Make companies. Make them. – Good bad or ugly.

Germans make great boardgames too
This one is new for me that Germans make some of the best boardgames. So I will check these boardgames. Personality, strength, style and engineering of BMW is inspiring me to explore their boardgames.

Learn the technical aspect of your profession
Brenda mentioned a number of times why she thinks John was better than her – he could program. She attributed her being good at maths as an enabler of her success. Whether it is programming or coding or understanding customers and markets – learn the core technical skills of your profession.
I was a bit reluctant to embrace my comfortably with technology. I hated being lumped with stereotypes about geeks. But I can not deny the facts that I was comfortable with technology. Now the understanding is my strength and I am comfortable with moving with both technical or business crowds.

Energy mechanics is like tokens on arcade games
“Should I never use energy mechanics coz it is perceived bad”, asked one of the young ones. The mater replied, think of your social games of today as having a token slot. Now think about having to put token every few minutes to continue to play the game. That it essentially the energy. Nicely put guys.

Designing for social (games) is different
Amen to that. Think of how players can work together. Think how can gameplay force that. Think how can that lead to a better engagement. Think of how that can lead to better monetization. Think about bringing additional player to social game through interesting and engaging gameplay. Every player that is having fun will monetize well. (of course they would love to pay if they are having fun.)

Social is service, AAA title are a movie
Think of social games as a service. Often the size of the team that developed the game is smaller than the team that manages it. You have a life time to monetize users. Think long-term.
I heard another analogy. Think of social as a TV sitcom and AAA games as a movie. In sitcom you have to think of creating multiple interesting episodes. So how would you maintain, engage and increase the player’s interest over time. (Idea: Are there any parallels between charters of sitcom and game’s characters. In TV shows if you put some really interesting characters in an interesting situation – drama happens. What is equivalent of that in games.)

Game Product Managers should identify the problem
A good product manager should identify the problems a game is having. Then let game designers to come up with the solution. I heard a similar suggestion but on a slightly different topic from friend Noah Goldenberg. He suggested that the best way a product manager can take advantage of his analytics teams is to tell them the problem he is trying to solve. Let the analyst suggest where, and what data will help illuminate on the problems.

Work with the team you enjoy working with
Even if the idea you are working on is not the best, great team can convert it into a success. A bad team will mess even a nice idea. If you are to choose which team to join then chose the team that you want to work with and respect.
I was thinking of going zen on this. A bad team has a bad energy about them. It just poisons everything: like a drop of pee in the milk leaves it un-drinkable. One may say it is just a drop, but hey its pee.

You be loyal to your people and they be loyal to the games they create
Some companies are paranoid with their employees talking to anyone. John and Brenda’s company LootDrop puts the names of their game designers on company website. Why? Well, if the employees feel they are being treated fairly they would love to work for the team. Companies should not worry about recruiters poaching their stars but them leaving out of frustrations.

Visionary, data driven, or design by committee
There are three designers on a project, which one is right?. The visionary who drives by the strength of his vision. A data driven designer who listens to numbers. And the designer who asks the community (committee) for ideas. Which one is good, John?

Vision is good, but it should be educated by real data. Design by committee is bad.

Nice or Fair – that is the question


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I needed some quick business cards yesterday. I went to a Kinkos location in downtown San Francisco. Over the years I have come to expect my interaction with Kinkos just like visiting Starbucks – pleasant and upbeat, helpful and professionals. But this one location shocked the hell out of me.

Everyone was referring the business card related questions to one gentleman standing in front of his computer. His reaction and responses were indifferent to say the least or impolite to be fair. What I did? Well got frustrated and went away to another location where of course I got the signature Kinkos service.

Later that evening I shared my terrible experience with my wife. With elaborate details of how bad I felt and how non-professional those folks at Kinkos were. “I should have said this and I could have said that…and it is so unfair and I really don’t like it…and how dare they could be so inconsiderate.” etc. etc. And then I had a deja vu, as if this is a rerun of something that happened earlier in my life.

Whenever my dad used to come home from work. He used to share with us his frustrations at the work. We felt so bad for dad and angry with all those of his colleagues who caused him distress. Later whenever we met any of those bad-uncles in person, we were specially advised to be extra nice. Sort of winning by niceness.

I could understand why I felt so bad at Kinkos. Simple reason, I had a bad experience and frankly I did not deserve it. But how I expressed my frustration and to whom – well that was not right. My wife was not the right recipient of my grievances with folks at Kinkos. Why I acted pretend-nice over there while I kept the frustration inside. And that brings us to my second deja vu.

My family emphasized kindness over being fair. Sacrifice over argument. Nice over being the troublemaker. My dad particularly shared stories of folks who were kind with others and finally universe rewarded them with its bounties. So kind, kind, and kind was drummed into all of us kids. But were were really kind?

Is kindness at the cost of hiding your true feelings is right approach? Should we always be smiley face or should we sometimes let others know when their actions cause us grief?

We all can debate these for centuries and still have different point of views. One thing we can all agree though is not to to punish the wrong person with the burdens of our complains.

If I decided not to complain at Kinkos, I should stay away from complaining to my wife.

Manners in times like this


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Recently a recruiter emailed me from my LinkedIn profile about an interesting opportunity. “I have an interesting opportunity, would you be interested?” his message said.

Who does not want “an interesting” opportunity so of course I said, “sure…please send me some details.”
The next response was…”I am working on a lot of opportunities…can we talk. Send me your updated resume.”

Now that is a little weird behaviour. You should have a good idea about who am I through my LinkedIn profile. After all you contacted me, right. Anyhow I still maintained professional conduct, “please let me know the details about the company and role and if I mind it a match I will send you my resume.”

He responded by giving no details about the company and of course again asking for a copy of resume.

This is a pattern of conversation with a number of recruiters. They search me from LinkedIn and then shoot email to collect resumes. This is bad manners and really bad business.

Well, bad time or good time. If you do not have the courage to be honest. You can not represent me. I wonder what you would do to your clients, (if you have them). Recruitment is business of trust and mutual respect. Quacks and pretend-career coaches are not welcome. Thanks I will take my chances.


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